Italy's new immunity law 'frees' Berlusconi

Berlusconi is charged in Milan with paying British lawyer $600,000 in 1997 from alleged "secret funds" held by his Mediaset SpA -- Italy's largest private broadcaster -- to withhold incriminating details of his business dealings.

Italy's new immunity law 'frees' Berlusconi
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi thanked Italian lawmakers for granting him immunity from prosecution in a law approved by parliament this week, saying, "You've freed me."

"Finally the magistrates can't persecute me anymore," the 71-year-old billionaire was quoted as saying by senators at the closed-door meeting on Wednesday.

"Now on Saturdays I can work calmly and won't have to meet with my attorneys," he joked in comments carried by Italian media on Thursday.

Signed into law by President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday, the law suspends criminal cases against the prime minister, president and the heads of both chambers of parliament while they are in office.

It was a victory for the conservative leader, who says politically motivated prosecutors have been out to get him since he entered politics 14 years ago. But critics say the law is designed to free him from legal headaches.

Berlusconi is charged in Milan with paying British lawyer David Mills $600,000 in 1997 from alleged "secret funds" held by his Mediaset SpA -- Italy's largest private broadcaster -- to withhold incriminating details of his business dealings. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

Berlusconi could opt to renounce the immunity and fight the charges in court.

Berlusconi has counted 2,500 hearings, 587 visits by the police and 174 million euros ($272.9 million) in legal fees during his political career. He has won all the cases against him, either by acquittal or because time ran out under Italy's statute of limitations.

Reuters
Last Mod: 24 Temmuz 2008, 14:48
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